Estate Planning Through Your Lifetime

Contrary to what you may think, estate planning is not a one-time event: it’s an active process that you reflect on and update over your lifetime. Your individual wishes, needs, and assets will inevitably change. Your family will grow, and tax and estate laws may be modified. While we can never know exactly what the future will look like, one thing we can do to ensure that our interests and loved ones are always protected is to create an estate plan that changes with us.

Please keep in mind that regardless of your age, if you have an estate plan, you should consider reviewing your documents every three to five years to guarantee your wishes are properly expressed and match what you currently want or believe.

Young Adults (Ages 18-30)

If you asked most young adults “at which age does estate planning become necessary?”, they would answer with their grandparents’ generation—this is not true.

Even though you’re no longer legally a child once you turn 18, it doesn’t mean you rely on your parents any less. People in this age group are moving out of their childhood homes and gaining independence, but often still lean on their parents for financial support (and sometimes even for making doctors’ appointments). When you look at it this way, it seems unusual that young adults would question the importance of creating their own estate plan.

In the case of incapacity, parents would need immediate access to their child’s healthcare information and the ability to make medical/financial-related decisions on his or her behalf. This wouldn’t be possible if their child didn’t already have an Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD), a Power of Attorney (POA), and a HIPAA Waiver in place. As young adults are a tech-savvy group, they may find it helpful to utilize the Medical ID Feature on their iPhones. Estate planning for digital assets such as their Google, Facebook, or Instagram accounts is very relevant here too.

Mature Adults (Ages 30+)

Now that you may have purchased a home, been married, or built up your 401k, you might consider updating your AHCD and POA to reflect that. At this point, as you may also have children yourself, it becomes vital to accommodate them in your estate plan to ensure they’re taken care of. This obligation extends to pets as well—as a parent and pet-owner, you may prepare for the futures of all your children (human or otherwise) in the same way through proper estate planning. Your own parents are aging with you as well, which may change how you include them in your plan as either beneficiaries or agents. These are all key points to consider for making sure your estate plan doesn’t fall out of date.

Having an outdated estate plan can lead to many unintended consequences, such as:

  • Your new assets, not transferred to your trust, being subject to probate;
  • Being represented by individuals that do not have your best interests in mind, or that you no longer have a close relationship with, if you are predeceased by your nominated executors, trustees, or beneficiaries;
  • Your assets being directed to people or causes that you no longer support;
  • Conflict within your family and friends;
  • Outdated estate law tying the hands of your surviving spouse;

You should review your estate plan upon any birth, death, marriage, divorce, or disability/illness affecting you or any beneficiary of your estate. If you experience a major change in assets such as having purchased real property or inherited from another estate, OR if any of your nominated agents experience death or incapacitation, these would also be reasons to review.

When your children start to reach majority and are looking towards college, consider talking to them about their own estate planning.

Seniors (Ages 65+)

As you near retirement, it’s essential to review any changes in tax and estate laws or your personal finances to gauge how they’ll affect your estate plan and beneficiaries. You may even have grandchildren at this time and could want to update your terms of distribution to accommodate for them.

This is also a great time to consider healthcare-related questions more deeply. In case I required long-term care, would I like to stay in my home, or would I be more comfortable in an assisted living facility? Should I apply for MediCal? What are my disposition options? Do I want to be cremated, buried, or neither? How about organ donation? Professional, private caregivers are available to help you make these decisions and more.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, you must be proactive in your planning to ensure your capacity is never in question. Health-related incapacity from dementia, medication-induced brain fog, or even older age in general will lead to doubt from your attorney and/or notary, which can bring your intentions into question and even land your estate in probate court after your death.

Happy Planning!

B.B.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Brittany Britton is licensed to practice law in the state of California only.

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